These Broken Stars Page 74

Long enough to help Tarver get home? I try to imagine myself drifting to infinitesimal pieces on the wind, turning to dust like the flower did. It’s easier to contemplate it if I’m not real after all—if I’m only a copy, a remnant of the girl who used to be here. I remember everything of my life, of Lilac’s life. But is memory enough?

The question of the dress haunts me too, coming back to me at every turn. I know he thinks of it too. I left this dress behind in the wreck of the Icarus, discarded for more practical clothing. Each rip and run in the satin is identical to those the original had. I can trace my journey on it—here, the first tear, caught on a thorn as we watched the Icarus fall. There, rubbed raw as I climbed the tree to escape the cat beast. Each mark and stain bearing witness to what I’ve been through. Except that this isn’t that dress.

So whose story does this impostor tell?

“I need to see the body.”

We’re both startled, heads snapping up. It’s not until I see the horror registering on Tarver’s face that I realize I was the one who spoke. The fragment of paper slips from my nerveless hand, fluttering to the floor, streaming ash.


“The body.” I assume he buried it—me. These thoughts ought to make me sick, ought to frighten me. Why do I think them only blankly?

“Lilac,” he whispers. “No. No. What good can come of that?”

“I need you to take me there.” My hands remember how to work again, clenching into fists pressed against my thighs. “What if there’s a body there? What if there isn’t?”

Tarver’s face has gone pale, something I never thought I’d see again after he recovered from his illness. My heart breaks a little, but not enough for me to crumble.

“Where did this dress come from?” I press. “We both know I left it on the laundry floor, back at the Icarus. Tarver, I have to know.”

“I don’t,” he retorts, suddenly fierce. He leans across the space between us, seeking my gaze. “Lilac, I have you back. That’s all I want. I don’t want to ask questions.”

To look at us one would think he was the one who’d come back from the dead. Maybe in some way he has. The way he looks at me now, like I’m water in a desert—how can I take that away from him? I make myself nod, and he relaxes.

He believes in me now.

The only problem is that I’m not so sure I do.

“I made up a bed for us in one of the rooms,” Tarver offers, leading the way down the hallway. When we reach the sleeping quarters, I see what he means—he’s pushed two sets of bunks together side by side, making a larger bed on the bottom, the top bunks forming a canopy above it.

“Us,” I echo aloud, halting on the threshold.

Tarver stops a few steps into the room and looks back at me. “Lilac?”

I swallow, shake my head. “Please. No. I’ll sleep out in the common room.”

Tarver turns and reaches for my hands. I manage to stop myself from jerking them away, but he senses the buried impulse in the way my skin twitches, and he lets them fall again.

“Why?” he says softly, his face bearing all the lines of grief and exhaustion and pain.

And why can’t I grant him this? I shiver. I must seem so cold to him now. How can he think I’m the same as his Lilac? He doesn’t know what I remember. He doesn’t know how hard it is to inhabit my own body, to make myself speak, walk, eat. How much I feel like I’m a prisoner, able to see and hear but unable to do the things the old Lilac would have done.

“I can’t. I told you—your touch, it burns. I can’t, not yet.”

He presses his lips together. Pain. The urge to go to him is so strong I think I must be tearing apart. I can’t let it go on like this.

“I lied to you,” I whisper, turning to lean back against the door frame. At least the pain of that pressure on my body is physical, distracting. “I let you think I don’t remember anything from the time I was—gone.”

I hear his intake of breath. “What—how—”

“I remember it all.” The cold is leaching my voice away, frost trickling through my limbs, crackling in my lungs.

“You mean—when it happened?”

He doesn’t deserve to know this. Kinder to let him think I just woke up myself again. Maybe the old Lilac would have protected him from this.

“I mean after.” I close my eyes. For a moment all is quiet and I can almost believe I’m gone again, to the silence. “Cold and dark don’t begin to describe it. Cold is just an absence of heat, dark an absence of light. There, it’s like—light and heat don’t exist, ever.”

The scrape of his shoe on the cement floor. He’s trying not to go to me. He’s trying to hold himself back.

The frost in my chest creaks, something else trying to come through. “I remember being dead, Tarver.” I swallow, and my breath comes out like a sob. “How do you live again, knowing what waits for you in the end?”

“You don’t sound like you believe me.”

“It’s our policy in such cases to maintain a certain amount of healthy skepticism.”

“You have a lot of precedent with survivors of serious trauma making things up as they go?”

“Considering the circumstances in which you were stranded and subsequently rescued, we don’t have a lot of precedent for anything.”

“What reason would I have to lie?”

“Now that, Major, is a very interesting question.”



WHEN I WAKE AGAIN THERE’S light creeping in through the shutters, and I roll over to squint at the illuminated clock built into the wall. I’ve learned from it that this place has twenty-six-hour days. I haven’t mentioned that to Lilac. It might seem a little too much like validation for every time she’s told me the day really does seem to go on forever here.

The last thing I remember was thinking that I’d never get to sleep on this damn bunk. The mattress is narrow and confining, and there’s a discomforting sense of being too far above the ground and in an unfamiliar space. I dragged the beds apart for her again and retreated to the top bunk, the frame screeching a protest as I hauled it across the floor.

The clock announces that it’s not too early to rise, and I shove the blankets aside so I can lean over the edge of the bunk and check whether Lilac’s still sleeping below.

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